Emotional Development and the Tween Years

Teenage girls looking at computer
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As children gradually develop into teenagers, their emotional development will be as obvious as their physical development. Watching your child's emotional development take root and grow is exciting, and challenging at the same time. Below are a few changes you can expect to see from your tween as he or she approaches the teenage years and meanders through puberty.

Emotional Development and Expression

The good news is as children approach the teen years, they develop a better understanding of their feelings, and can better express their feelings to you. When your child was younger, she may have become angry, but was unable to express why. As a tween, she should be able to express why she feels a particular emotion (positive or negative) and that keeps you from having to constantly guess what her mood is or why she's grumpy or extremely happy.

Parenting Tip: When dealing with angry tweens, make sure you set limits on how they're allowed to express their feelings. Violent outbursts, physical aggression, and disrespectful behavior should not be tolerated. It's important to teach your tween now how to responsibly manage his or her emotions. Doing so will make the teen years much easier for both of you.

Tweens and Moods

If there's a downside to the tween years it has to be moody behavior. Emotional development and the tween years aren't easy for tweens or parents. As your child faces increasing pressure at school, socially, and faces confusion and anxiety over puberty, you can expect plenty of mood swings. For girls, mood swings may be sparked by hormonal changes before or during menstruation, rejection from peers, and increased pressures at school. Boys also experience anxiety over school, friendships, girls, and puberty.

Mood swings can present themselves quickly and unexpectedly, but they are usually short-lived.

Parenting Tip: Moody tweens often need time alone in order to calm down and put things into perspective. If your tween struggles with mood swings, help him find ways to deal with his emotions positively. He could listen to music, read a book, or spend time playing video games.

Tweens May Become Self-Conscious

A major part of emotional development is self-awareness. As your tween becomes more aware of herself and the world around her she may become self-conscious about her appearance, her clothes, and just about everything else. During the tween years, girls often compare themselves with their peers, and with the images, they see in magazines, on television, and in the movies. Unfortunately, many girls believe that they aren't as talented, pretty, smart, or likable as other girls.

Parenting Tip: During the tween years girls need gentle reassurance that there's nothing wrong with them and that they're developing the way they are meant to. Offer your love and support and ask how you can help them deal with issues they might be struggling with. Also, be aware of the signs of eating disorders, as well as the symptoms of depression.

Emotional Development and Reasoning

As your child grows he or she may show signs of sophisticated reasoning, another major milestone in your child's emotional development. As your child thinks more and more like an adult, it makes communicating with him a little easier, and a little harder.

The more your child understands the easier it is to make your point and hopefully, get it across to him. However, tweens are famous for trying to negotiate with their parents, or for finding inconsistencies in their parents' reasoning that they can use against them. Expect your tween to challenge you and your decisions from time to time.

Parenting Tip: It's important that you manage your own emotions when your tween is pushing your buttons. Be sure you take a time-out for yourself when you think you might be losing it.

Also, it's OK to take the time to think about how you want to respond to your tween when he or she has challenged your authority or presented a side to an issue that you hadn't considered. You could say, "It's clear that this is a complicated matter. I need time to think about this and when I do, we'll talk about it again."

Emotional Development and Romantic Feelings

Tweens may begin to show a romantic interest in others even as young as age 9. Generally, tweens aren't mature enough to handle dating, but they may talk about dating, who they want to date, and mention classmates who are already dating.

Parenting Tip: You don't want to forbid your tween to date, as that will only encourage your child to rebel against you. Allow your tween to mix with members of the opposite sex in groups (as long as they're close in age). It's fine to allow your tween to think about dating, but don't encourage dating until your child is really ready for the experience.